Letyat zhuravli (1957)

“Letyat zhuravli” (1957)
(The Cranes are flying)

cegonhas

IMDb

the urges of the world, and the space that surrounds them

When you take your life as a film watcher seriously, you start deciding you own own special things you like to observe in films. That can be as simple as wanting to see films depicting certain themes (that’s superficial to me), or observing how certain things are handled. In my case, and because i am, primarily, an architect, i care about how that is handled in film. It’s not so much a matter of how the built world (architecture) is depicted, as i initially thought, but how the space is handled. It is not illustrative cinema what i look for, the kind of footage we have in most of the ordinary architecture documentaries. It’s interpretations of space, ways to place us in those spaces, bended to the intentions of who films them. For that specific corner of film possibilities that i love, Kalatozov is one of the most interesting directors ever. He does handle space. In doing so he simultaneously works with framing, editing and, specially, camera movement (thus the cranes). I think he should be credited for these experiences along with the brilliant Urusevsky, two complementing and crazy visions. Their master work, definitely, is Soy Cuba, which has to be one of the most perfect visions of a lifetime work. That one is a perfect film in pretty much everything that you “see”. This one, to me, paves the way to the later one, but what a powerful experience it is on its own.

Check what we have here: – right at the beginning, the geometry of the composition that includes the stone from the stairs, the shadow of that stone, and the movement of the characters within that frame; – still at the beginning, the stairs scene. All the games that include editing, and those beautiful spiral camera moves up the stairs, and perfect framings of the stair pits. These stairs are a fundamental metaphor for the story, and they come back to our eyes, half destroyed, later on. From the point of view of the matching of space/architecture/camera, this is the most powerful moment in the film, that will stay long after i saw it; – all the sequences between crowds. These have a pretext, always the same, Veronika looking for Boris, early in the film she tries to find him so she can say goodbye, and at the very end, she still hopes to find him. This is powerful because it suffocates us, placing us as one among many. Those are strong spatial scenes which, still, depict very little built elements of the environment. It’s about people and how we/camera and Veronika walk around or through it. This is the true nature of Kalatozov’s eye. So powerful.

Apart from these scenes which matter specially to me, we have two brilliant pieces of editing, which probably should be credited more to Urusevsky: -The implied rape scene where shadow/light, bomb sounds, and a piano score are the very definition of the drama we follow Veronika cross. Perfect editing, subtle camera work, perfect close up framing (Samoilova’s face was precious); -Boris’ death. To me it’s less powerful than the other one, but still it works in ways that move you beyond surface.

So, back to space concerns: we have geometric framing; we have camera movement and editing attached to an architectural space; and we have a disembodied spatial camera that moves without built references. What a visual glossary! What more can you want? This would be good enough, but Kalatozov/Urusevsky expanded our minds, and gave us Soy Cuba. What great lives they had.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb

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